“I walked home from school with Mary. We played at my house. Then I practiced piano.”
Ann (*reasonable facsimile of childhood diary)
Lately, I’ve been thinking about journals, blushing about my own feeble attempts to fill even one page of my childhood diary, and realizing how important diaries have been to understanding the past.
I remember reading Anne Frank’s diary. As a first introduction to serious journaling, Frank’s story came as a huge shock, but it also raised the bar in my thinking about what a real diary could be. And it stopped me from ever trying to produce one again.
What got me on the topic of diaries were two books I recently read.
The first was “Boys in the Boat,” which told the story of the University of Washington rowing team that won the gold medal at the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Many of the characters recorded the highs and lows of their journey from frightened, novice oarsmen to national heroes.
The second was “The Garden of the Beast,” which used diaries of the U.S. Ambassador to Germany and his daughter, as well as German leaders’ written personal records, to tell the story of events leading up to World War II.
Shortly after finishing these books, “Brain Pickings Weekly” appeared in my inbox with its “15 worthy resolutions for 2015.” Resolution number 2: “Keep a Diary.”
Were all these recent references to diaries hinting that I should try it again? If I do, I won’t be alone.
Many friends keep journals for different reasons. Some say the best way to start their day is to follow the advice of “The Artist’s Way” author Julia Cameron to produce “morning pages,” three daily long-hand pages, which might not sound coherent, but which prime your brain for more creative activities.
One friend says, “I write every day to help clear the chatter from my head, to sort things out, to work out the day’s problems.”
Another writes that her journal “built into a close-up look at relationships, complications, and family connections.”
Even with these models, nothing inspired me to take the plunge. Until, out of the blue, someone emailed me a “New York Times” article called, “Writing Your Way to Happiness.” According to this, a variety of studies report many health benefits that come from writing and rewriting personal narratives. In one, “College students were asked to write for 15 minutes a day either about an important personal issue or superficial topics. Afterward, the students who wrote about personal issues had fewer illnesses and visits to the student health center.” In other research, students improved their college grade point averages, heart attack sufferers showed improved health, and cancer patients experienced reduced symptoms.
That did it. I’m going to try keeping a journal once again. It could be fun to reflect on changes as I age.
Having rewritten many scenes in my novel five or six times, rewriting incidents in my life should be as easy as falling off a horse. No. Wait. I did that already and wrote about it. I’ll have to try re-telling the story, but this time with a happier ending, maybe where we ride off together into the sunset.